Expect the Unexpected – The Photographic Journey

My husband and I have been partners in marriage and in business for over 35 years. We have collected a lot of memories together over those years and because we are both photographers and filmmakers, we have recorded many of those moments.

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Gail Mooney with James Michener. Chesapeake Bay, MD

I’ve been sifting through our analog archive of photographic prints and “chromes” lately in the process of purging other “stuff” in my life, that I no longer need. It is amazing how much stuff one can accumulate over the years. We have never been “consumers” in the typical sense. I’m almost embarrassed to say that we don’t even have a flat screen TV in our home – we do in our office, which is part of our home – but not in our living area. But we have somehow accumulated lots of folk art from a lifetime of travels, lots of photographic gear and hundreds of thousands of images.

As I continue to look through a lifetime of images, I occasionally pull a couple of photos out of the archive and share them on Facebook on “throw back Thursday”. What stands out to me in looking through a lifetime of photographs is that my husband and I have had an incredible journey together. I don’t think either one of us could have begun to imagine some of the experiences we have shared, when we first started out – I know I didn’t.

I’ll share one image and story with you. Tom and I had an assignment for Travel & Leisure to shoot a story on the Chesapeake and we had arranged to photograph Michener for the article. The day of the shoot, I brought my dog-eared paperback copy of Michener’s “Caravans”, that he had written in 1951. I had carried that paperback in my backpack for a year when I circled the globe the first time. I was told by some that I shouldn’t hand a paperback to Michener to sign – but I did anyway. He was touched, because he knew how important the book had been to me on my journey.

I remind myself daily to enjoy each day that I am given and to never underestimate what may be around the next corner. Expect the unexpected.

 

 

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Golden Days – a Life in Photography

I’ve been sifting through a lifetime of images over the last few weeks, in a myriad of formats – prints, transparencies and digital files. Gail Mooney - early 1980's - New York CityWhat started out as a simple quest: to find photos of my daughter Erin at various ages in her life, for a bridal shower “game”, quickly turned into a major,  yet wonderful distraction.  I was looking through the visual archive of my life – my husband/ partner’s life – Erin’s life and all the family and friends that made up a lifetime.

In the “old days” it was more of a working chore to take photos of casual gatherings.  You needed to bring a camera, a flash and  lenses with you (not to mention film), to be able to document various life events.  Now, with cameras with us at all times in our phones, we are able to capture and share the moments of our lives, easily and all the time.  Sometimes, it almost seems like we are more intent on capturing and sharing our “moments” than we are just living those moments.

I can tell you that experiencing something through the lens of my camera is a totally different experience than just “being in the moment” for me. There have been times when I’ve been intensely photographing something, when I didn’t really feel like I was experiencing “the moment”.  I was shooting “the moment” but I wasn’t part of it.

My camera(s) have been a major part of my life.  They have provided me access to my dreams and still do.  As I looked through the decades of images, it was like reading chapters in a book, each unique yet connected and integral to my life’s journey.

As I thought about my journey, I realized that if I had one big “take away” – my curiosity for life is what drove me. There was always something I wanted to try or do or learn about – and so, I did.  That usually put me in a position where I moved forward, rather than be left behind.  I was lucky because it was organic to my nature.  I was smart and maybe a little brave because I listened to myself.

My passion nowadays is to photograph and film others’ stories as my continued curiosity leads me to another chapter in my life.

Enjoy and savor every one of life’s moments – they go by in the blink of an eye.

“With my maps and my faith in the distance – Moving farther on”     Jackson Browne

One Million Miles

Yesterday, I took a look at my United Airlines frequent flyer statement, and realized that I had flown 822,571 miles with that airline!

United Airlines Boeing 777–200 landing in the ...
United Airlines Boeing 777–200 landing in the Blue Tulip livery. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was 177,429 miles away from a million lifetime flight miles. And that’s just the miles that I’ve flown with United!  It doesn’t include all the miles I’ve flown on other airlines, nor any of the miles I’ve flown using reward tickets. And it doesn’t include the miles I flew traveling around the world during the making of my film, Opening Our Eyes.

As I looked at that number, and thought about all those miles, Gail Mooney and daughter Erin Kelly, Giza, EgyptI couldn’t help but think about the destinations, the purpose and the motivation behind them. When I set out to live the life of a “traveler” at the young age of 19, I had absolutely no idea of how that would mold my life.  As a professional photographer, I’ve gone to the corners of the globe on dream assignments for magazines and corporations and loved every bit of it – my work has always been my pleasure.  When I wasn’t working, I’d still find a reason to travel, whether on a press junket or simply exploring the world with my husband and daughter.  Some of my favorite family memories are from our travels to Peru and Egypt.

I will always be a traveler.  I am a nomadic creature and I have a huge curiosity about our world and its people. For me, travel is more than going from point A to point B. Sure, there are plenty of times, on corporate jobs when I travel somewhere to photograph a particular person or a place and I’m never there long enough to get a sense of the place I am in.  But, for the most part, I travel to a destination to find out more about that place and tell the visual story of that particular place and its people.

As I thought about all those miles traveled, I started to think about reaching the “Million Miler” status with United.  I was only 177,429 miles away!  That may seem like a lot to many of you, and it might seem like no big deal to others, but to me it seems like a very attainable goal.  In fact, when I started to think about reaching that goal, I thought that I could easily attain that in 3 year’s time – just in time for a milestone birthday.  That’s something to consider and I shall.  I certainly have the motivation; I just need to define the destinations and more importantly the purpose.

Any suggestions?  I’m open to your thoughts.

5 Tips for Filmmakers (and other artists) for Building an Audience

The good news for Indie filmmakers, musicians, photographers and new media artists is that technology enables us to take control and distribute our own work to the masses or a more targeted niche audience.  The bad news is that even though we are able to reach a global audience without giving the lion’s share of our profits to an agent or distributor – it’s a lot of hard work.

When I completed final production on my first feature documentary, Opening Our Eyes, I knew I was hardly finished with this film, not if I wanted people to see it. theater interioeIMG_0150Since most filmmakers make their movies to be seen, they need to decide how they want their movies distributed and marketed.  As a filmmaker, do you want to delegate this task to a distribution company or do it yourself?  Will you be one of the lucky 1% of filmmakers who get their films picked up for distribution?  If not, do you have a plan on how to do that?

1. Identify and build audience – Regardless if you decide to sign with a distributor or distribute your work yourself, the most important part of marketing and distributing a film is to identify and build your audience – and you should start building your audience before the film is finished.  As soon as I made a commitment to make a film, I started blogging about it.  I created a blog specifically about the film where my daughter and I talked about preparing for and taking a 99-day journey around the world. I also wrote about the making of the film on this blog where I talked about gearing up for it as well as the post-production process.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was building our niche audience.

2. Have a social media plan:

  • Decide on platforms – Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google+, YouTube, Vimeo
  • Carve out the time to engage
  • Decide where the content will come from – behind the scenes photos or footage, blogs, podcasts?
  • Who and where is your audience? Find other Facebook groups or pages and followers who are interested in the same topic as yours.  Collaborate. Build your Twitter followers same way.

3. Finding true fans – Since most filmmakers will most likely NOT have a mega hit with huge profits, the best thing a filmmaker can do is build their “true fan” base.  First you should ask yourself how many “true fans” would you need to sustain yourself as a filmmaker? And by true fan, I mean people who are willing to buy whatever you are selling, be it a book, a DVD, a music download or a t-shirt.  The key to growing your core “true fans” is to engage them by sharing interesting content as opposed to just selling something.

4. Be consistent and stick with it – Like anything else, building an audience takes time.  Be prepared to constantly interact and engage your audience by sharing relevant and interesting content with them.  You’re building a tribe or a community.

5. Find likely partners – Making films is a collaborative effort.  Similarly, for filmmakers to be successful in marketing their films they need to find their core niche.  One great way to find your niche audience is to identify like minded groups and share links.  The non-profit my daughter works for partnered with us and we frequently share each other’s news with our followers.

Condensing a Life

I have lived in the house that I am in for 19 years. For a kid who grew up going to a new school every year until the fourth grade, this has been the longest I have ever lived anywhere.  My husband and I raised a child in this home.  We also work here, running our photography business out of a separate section of the house.  What that means is that we’ve done a lot of living in this house and with that comes the accumulation of “stuff”.

When you live the kind of life I do, always moving forward with new projects and exploring the world, you don’t realize what a past you’ve had until you begin the process of getting rid of things you no longer need.  That’s what I have been doing recently, sorting through years worth of “stuff” and tossing what I don’t need anymore.

I spent the day yesterday, taking on just one small corner of my office, going through folders that contained everything from old stock photo delivery memos, caption information for dozens of destinations, financial information, old contact info, lists of goals and good intentions and LOTS of correspondence.

And that’s where I got totally sidetracked from my mission, looking through almost 20 years of correspondence.  There were many letters from a friend who died long ago.  My friend had also been a mentor to me, and his letters were thoughtful, insightful and full of encouragement. I suppose I have kept those letters all these years to remind me of where I was at during that time in my life.

There were plenty of other letters and note cards from people who have been part of my life, including a card from my daughter withErin+Paris at the beach 1995 Happy Birthday Mommy a crayon drawing inside that she had made.  It brought back of vivid memory of when I had received it.  It was my birthday and I had been on a very long assignment, shooting in France, and as great as that sounds, (and it was) it was also hard because I missed my family terribly.

It was a bittersweet experience, going through decades of correspondence, but I’m grateful that I kept some of it.  It was like tangible evidence of chapters of my life and it somehow felt more real than my electronic archives do.  And so, while I spent hours shredding documents, feeling like I was in the movie Argo, there’s just some things I’m not quite ready to let go of. For now those tangible memoirs will stay in that corner of the office until the next edit.

Storytelling – Words or Pictures?

I have always been a visual communicator.  For over 35 years I have been making a living taking photographs for magazines all over the world.  I have always “seen” the world and captured its stories through visuals.  Somehow, it was far easier for me to communicate with images than with words.  Sidewalk performer King Biscuit Festival Helena, ArkansasBut it was also a bit frustrating for me because many times when I was photographing a person, I felt like I was leaving a portion of their story untold.

When I photograph people, invariably I spend a good deal of time talking and listening to them.  It’s this rapport that usually enables me to capture a more intimate photograph. For me, this has always been my favorite part of the “process”, yet I never had an outlet for my subjects’ words, other than through the captions of my photographs.

When I started producing documentaries, my conversations with my subjects finally had an outlet through their recorded interviews that became the backbone of the “script”.  Even though the script was not something that I wrote using my own words, I was instrumental in the process because I was selecting the words and giving them an order.  I was involved in the process and structure of screenwriting.

In recent years, I have become fascinated with story structure and screenwriting.  I have read numerous books on the topic of screenwriting and this past weekend I decided to immerse myself in an intensive 3-day workshop with John Truby.  John has taught some of the best screenwriters around.  I knew going into this, it was going to be a great and informative workshop, but I had no idea how rewarding it would be.  Essentially, John gave me knowledge of the “process” and the structure of storytelling to enable me to take an idea and turn it into a really good story.

I have come away from this workshop with a deeper understanding and respect for a well-written story.   We can all spot poor writing in a film.  It stands out.  Even the layman who knows nothing about “the process” or story structure can identify really bad writing.  The audience may not know why the story or the film doesn’t work – they just know it doesn’t and they’re not buying it.  Like any other craft, screenwriting has gone through stylistic changes over the years, but the fundamentals remain.  After all, telling stories is as old as time and there has always been a constant – and that is “the audience”.  Ultimately the audience will decide if a writer has done their job well.

I think those of us who are “content creators” in this era of multi-media communications need to broaden our understanding of all kinds of mediums in order to effectively communicate.  Many times, I see creatives become too narrowly focused on their one set of tools and in the process lose sight of their end goal  – and that is to deliver the message or story to the audience.  Ultimately, the audience will always let you know if you’ve hit the mark or not because they are looking at the “whole” and not the “parts” of the story.

10 Ways Photographers are Their Own Worst Enemies

  1. They talk themselves out of things.  – Telling themselves that it wouldn’t matter if they learned new skills or shot new images or whatever they didn’t want to make the effort to do.
  2. They try to “educate” their clients (sometimes a bit too much) instead of collaborating and possibly learning from them.  A lot of “older” photographers are like this when they are working with younger art buyers or directors. I think the energy needs to work both ways.House surrounded by construction site, Atlantic City, NJ
  3. They give themselves an A for effort for starting something but too many times their starts lead to nowhere if they don’t have an end goal in mind.
  4. They don’t open themselves up to networking with others by attending industry meetings or events.
  5. They treat their clients like their enemies where one needs to win instead working toward a positive outcome for both.
  6. They make the mistake of creating for an audience, instead of creating for them selves.  (Thanks to Seth Godin for that thought)
  7. They take workshops or pay for a service and then don’t utilize them. I’ve been guilty of this too many times.
  8. They don’t shoot for the pleasure of it.
  9. They rely too much on commissioned work instead of taking advantage of new opportunities and ways in which to market and sell their own projects.
  10. They don’t stay true to themselves.